I have been eager to try a Down to Earth Farm Feast for ages but the timing has always been off. A few weeks ago, all that changed. An email popped into my inbox, offering a sumptuous 4 course meal, set in a pomegranate orchard. But this is no ordinary meal on a farm. This is sophisticated dining. I LOVE pomegranates. The fruit brings to life my memories of childhood. Warm sun, blue skies and a fridge chilled pomegranate. Using my hands I would gently tear apart the outer peel to reveal the tightly packed jewels holding dear their precious nectar, I always took a moment to appreciate its ruby coloured prettiness, before I feasted.
Resistance was futile! I simply had to go on this food adventure.
Down to Earth, started back in 2013, with a simple concept - farm to table food that aimed to show case the best in local produce. Farms were used to host a pop up restaurant, which consists of a truck named Ruby which serves as the kitchen. Communal dining brought people together to share a meal, while enjoying the outdoors. All of this with a certain level of elegance.
Jacqui Smith took over Down to Earth last year and she has a new vision for the company "we will expand from farms to feasting anywhere that we consider interesting, beautiful, memorable, historical or simply a space yet to be discovered." I am all in favour of the new dining discoveries, which lie ahead!
But first, back to the pomegranate farm.
The Venue: Ganico Organic Pomegranate Farm
Bathed in the Highveld sun, trees laden with ripe fruit just waiting to be picked, the orchard was an inviting sight. In the centre of the neat rows of trees, very much like a pomegranate, we found splendour. Think beautifully laid tables, designed menus, thoughtful decorations, music – the attention to detail by the Down to Earth crew is impressive.
Apart from pomegranates, there are also beehives and free range chickens roaming about the farm. The Ganico Organic Pomegranate Farm is a family run business located in Muldersdrift. According to its website http://www.ganico.co/ , it’s the 1st official organic pomegranate farm in SA. Ganico also offers a host of fruit related products, including pomegranate molasses, a drizzle and pomegranate blossom honey. It’s wonderful having a farm like this so close to the city and even better that the owners allow members of the public to share in the enjoyment of the space.
What better way to start a feast, than with a pomegranate and rosemary gin and tonic, served in a pretty bottle, with a festive straw! The G&T helped keep us cool against the hot and humid weather but also set the tone for the food-sharing fun to come.
Canapes consisted of bruschetta with burnt aubergine and goat’s cheese topped with pomegranate jewels. There were also bocconcini (a small ball of Mozzarella cheese) wrapped in chargrilled courgette with a pomegranate molasses drizzle. These were bite sized and yummy, especially the burnt aubergine. I would have wolfed down several more, if there wasn’t a further three courses ahead of me. A cheesy, herby garlic bread got the plated service started, together with a fresh and summery salad of peach & beetroot, bathed in a basil and aniseed dressing. The pieces of goat’s cheese on top really rounded off the dish and was a great foil against the tartness of the peach and beets.
The dishes presented included 2 veggies and a meat and fish dish.
The absolute star of the meal was the Moroccan flavoured pulled lamb. Tender, moist, well spiced with a bit of a kick from the ras el hanout, I happily had two portions of the dish. Lamb is my favourite red meat and I can be fussy about its preparation. This dish exceeded all my expectations, especially when you consider it’s been cooked in a pop-up restaurant on a farm! Credit to the skill of Chef Danielle. The veg side dish of roast sweet potato with basil, almond, pumpkin seeds and pomegranate molasses yoghurt, was a great accompaniment to the lamb – the sweet of the potato versus the spice of the lamb. My only suggestion would have been a bit of starch, either a flat bread or couscous to wipe up the yummy juices from the lamb. The fish dish consisted of salmon with a pomegranate and herb dressing. It was cooked to perfection and simply melted in your mouth. The slight sweetness of the fish offset by the other side dish offering of chargrilled broccoli tossed in chilli and garlic oil. Fresh ingredients, really do speak for themselves.
It’s remarkable to think that the meals presented didn’t come out of a conventional kitchen. There was just a table under a tent that served as a prep station and then the cooking took place inside Ruby.
To accompany our meals, there was a selection of red and white wines, from Pandora’s Box Wines, which have earned a clutch of awards over the past 2 years. We opted for the Gooseberry Sauvignon Blanc – it was crisp, fresh and refreshing. I first stumbled across the Pandora Box brand in 2016 and must confess I picked it based solely on its name. But I wasn’t disappointed, the wines are easy to drink and very well priced! Agar’s Brewery offered craft beer - Jozi Blonde, American Pale Ale and Jack Tar English Bitter. The servers regularly brought around drinks, water and ice. If you wanted to help yourself there was a bar area where you could go get your own tipple. The stylish décor, professional service and warm hospitality all comes together, to make for the perfect day out – it’s made even more special when you consider that we were sitting in the middle of a pomegranate orchard.
Danielle Postma Co-owner and Chef of Moema’s in Parktown North – Danielle is a pastry genius and was a regular contributor to my calorie bank. The store unfortunately has been closed, Moemas now operates has a catering company offering savoury and sweet treats to order. Cooking classes are also available. Before coming to South Africa, Danielle worked in the UK, including a stint with well-known chef, writer and restaurant owner Yotam Ottolenghi.
The History of Pomegranates:
Being categorised a super food, as certainly raised the pomegranate’s profile of late but don’t be fooled this fruit is LEGENDARY! It is thought to be the world’s first cultivated fruit, native to Iran all the way to the Himalayas, in Northern India. According to http://www.foodreference.com/ pomegranates are also one of a few things held in high regard across most religions including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Greek Orthodox and Hindus, etc. There are several interesting stories around this fruit going as far back as 3500 BC. Definitely worth a read, it’s as exciting as reading about its health properties. In South Africa the farming of pomegranate according to the National Agricultural Marketing Council, is relatively new and only started in the 2000’s, with most of the exports going to Europe.
For more details:
Ganico Organic Pomegranate Farm